Thursday, 30 May 2013

Lilacs, cow parsley and the wonderful Mr Arthur Ransome

Linking up with Lou for a little Nature in the Home.

At the end of the garden is a gate, and through the gate is a lane.  And down the lane there's nature.  I went looking for green things, and I wasn't disappointed.  This is the time of year when every time I go out I marvel anew at the sudden greenness of everything.  I made up a little bunch of things, including a beautiful white lilac and some cow parsley, and popped it on the mantelpiece to enjoy.

Also waiting to be enjoyed is this wonderful book.

The flyleaf says it all.

I'm especially looking forward to the culinary detail!

In the back of the book is this lovely map.  This edition was published in 1942, and the flap at the back contains an advertisement for the BBC.  It begins, "Men, women, and even children, risk imprisonment and death to hear broadcasts from London.  They are the inhabitants of the occupied countries of Europe."   Something I love about old copies of books is the sense of history they carry with them.  I try and imagine who bought them, what the shop was like, the excitement they felt for the book, and where they read it.  And then I can share the adventure with them.  I can be immersed in the same story, in the same world.  And I'm thinking that back in 1942 whoever read this book would have been happy to escape from reality for a while.  Thank goodness for amazing writers, of which Arthur Ransome was most definitely one.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Lulu, Mrs Armitage and Darcey Bussell

Just outside of the back door is a little step.  It's the place I sit when the sun is shining and I am sneaking a quiet moment or two while the tea cooks or after I finish clearing up from lunch.  Sometimes I flick through a book, sometimes I just close my eyes and enjoy the sun or watch bees on the blueberry bush.  This week I found Sarah Raven's "Food for Friends and Family" at our local library.  It's a fantastic book, with dozens of recipes for each of the four seasons.  I had asparagus in the fridge from the allotment, so I sat on my step and found a recipe for asparagus tart.

I adapted it slightly, using less fancy cheese and mustard, but it was lovely.   There was rhubarb too, and I know the recipe for crumble off by heart.

I do so love the first foods of spring.

It's been a lovely few days.  On Friday I watched three boys run a total of eighty times round their school field in aid of a cancer charity.  The rain held off, just, until it was time to leave and then the heavens opened.  This is the view of the local church from the school field, just over the road.  It's a very special, beautiful place, and I regularly think how lucky we are to live here.

This is Lulu, one of our two guinea piggies.  The other one is Mrs Armitage - fans of the wonderful Quentin Blake may recognise the names from his fantastic book, "Mrs Armitage Queen of the Road".   Lulu and Mrs Armitage have been in their run on the (very sparse) lawn enjoying the outdoors and whatever grass they can find.  It is telling that there is thicker grass in some of the vegetable plots at the allotment than there is in the lawn at home.

On the subject of pets, we had a bit of a hamster drama yesterday.  The middle boy has a little hamster of his very own, called (ironically enough, as you will see) Nibbles.  In a careless moment he allowed himself to be bitten, hard, and sat on the sofa squeaking (boy not hamster) while blood ran off of his finger onto the beige carpet and Nibbles headed for freedom.  Sigh.  Salt was sprinkled (carpet), water was dabbed (boy and carpet) and an Iron Man plaster administered.  I am very cautious when feeding Nibbles now in case he's developed a taste for human flesh.

I'm off to a little anniversary-type do for OH's relatives tomorrow.  I chose a lovely David Austin rose as a gift which I hope they'll like.  It's Darcey Bussell and she is red, smells fruity and divine and will make a nice bush apparently.  I gussied her up with a bit of tissue paper and a (handmade-by-me) label and some ribbons.

Hopefully she will be well received; I know I would like her in my garden.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the half term break.  We spent a happy afternoon at the local park yesterday, which is a fantastic big space with a paddling pool that the boys love.  They did go in, but it was cold, cold, cold, so it was only a ten-minute dip.  I'm hoping for more sunshine, but I think there may be rain ahead.  Above is a picture of the clouds above "our" river, taken from the top room.  Typical of May weather I think.  Hope you all have a great week.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A little light tree planting

I've had this little apple tree in a pot for a while, and it felt like the time to release it into the garden.  There isn't much space, bearing in mind the need for a football pitch in the middle, so it has been squeezed in between the guinea pigs, the garage and the compost bins.

I had about 45 minutes this afternoon before school pick-up time - not long, but once I have an idea in my head I like to crack on.  The main problem with the garden lies from about 6-18 inches below the surface of the soil.  In goes the spade, and then bang, you hit rock.  It's in a big layer all over the local area, in fact I think it runs all the way down to the river.  At nearby Aust you can see various different strata in the cliff, and our layer is in there somewhere.  It makes digging a real nightmare.  When we moved in we found a huge and incredibly heavy iron spike in the shed.  We wondered what it was for, until I tried to dig a hole, then it all became screamingly clear.  It's for manually breaking up the rocks.

Over the five years we've been here, I've excavated mountains of the stuff.  Fortunately for the most part it's slightly crumbly, and after a few good whacks it tends to break.  But nonetheless it is such hard work.  My next-door neighbour has helped me quite a bit, using a pickaxe and crowbars of varying sizes.  After I dug the raised beds and the pond I spent weeks ferrying tons of the stuff to the Sort-It centre.

So a quick tree-planting is never a realistic proposition.  But once I'd started I had to press on.  I hammered away like a maniac for half an hour, and eventually had a hole that was just about big enough.  Obviously it's not ideal growing trees on top of a layer of rock; I always try and make sure there's a bit of good soil underneath to start it off.

I did all the stuff Alan Titchmarsh recommends - manure, blood, fish and bone, firming it down, watering.  No stake, because of the rock - they just don't go in securely enough.  I usually wait until the tree leans and then knock up some sort of makeshift pulley system.  Not what Alan recommends at all.

Anyway, this was the finished effect, right before I zoomed off to school.

The tree is a Worcester Pearmain, which is a tip-bearing apple, so I haven't pruned it so as to leave the tips where the fruit should form.  There is hardly any blossom this year, which is fine.  It can spend a year establishing and hopefully next year there will be more.  It does seem to suffer very badly from aphids, to the extent that the foliage becomes completely distorted.  I'm hoping that it will grow and strengthen and be able to cope with the attacks a bit better.

This is the view from a bit nearer the house.  Raised beds with broad beans, runner beans, sweet peas, salad leaves and a particularly thorny tayberry.  On the right are two pear trees (Doyenne du Comice and Beurre Hardy), a gooseberry, which has just gone in to replace a rotted rhubarb, and raspberries.

When we moved in five years ago, there wasn't a single plant anywhere.  Just lawn and patio and fence.  Gradually I've added things, mostly things to eat, but I always have to keep a bit of a space for boys to run around in.  Maybe one day I'll find a spot for some shrubs and flowers, but for now it's all about the food.  Fortunately some of those have good flowers too.  At the moment there are strawberries, broad beans and the ever beautiful apple blossom.  Lovely.

Until next time, enjoy the rest of the week.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Technological storms and the calm beauty of spring

After a couple of weeks of being driven absolutely nuts by technology and even more nuts by so-called internet service providers and the people at the end of the 'phone (when they are, finally, at the end of the 'phone) there was a final straw moment last week when our printer stopped working.

We had to spend an entire morning sorting it out.  Firstly establishing that it was more cost effective to just chuck it in the "Small Electricals" skip at the Sort-It Centre and buy a brand-new one.  This seems to be the case with almost everything now.  No repairs - too expensive.  Just throw it away and buy another one.  Don't worry about the ecological implications.  Just buy more stuff.

Then driving to the nearest out-of-town shopping centre (nothing available in our small town).  Then agonising over which of the thirty or forty makes and models to choose.  Which was most reliable?  (None of them are particularly, we were told by a surprisingly truthful salesperson).  Which would be cheapest to run in ink cartridges?  (Not possible to work this out apparently).  Which would best suit our purpose?  (We only need black and white pages and a very occasional burst of colour - not wireless, high definition, auto duplex-printing, cloud-connecting, pict bridge, optical character recognising magnificence.)

We picked one.  We were not filled with confidence.  It took half an hour to unpack and plug in.  It took the rest of the afternoon to install.  (I know, I know, it isn't supposed to.  But with us, it did.  There were error messages and tantrums.)  But finally it was done, and it will probably last around two years, like the previous ones we have had.  And then we will throw it away and begin again.

All this got me thinking about how it used to be.  You had a typewriter.  Lots of them are still around now, decades later.  Still working perfectly.  If they aren't, they can be repaired.  Once you had your typewriter, which was probably Made in England, you just needed some ribbons, some paper and some carbon.  If you ran out, you popped along to your own town centre and bought some more.  Forty minutes later you'd be back home and typing again. 

My other half, who is constantly being asked to provide copies of documents he has produced that his clients have misplaced, asked what happened when pages get lost.  Well, they were possibly a little more careful with them before the time of photocopiers and computers.  And obviously there was a lot less paper around back then, before paperless offices existed.  Because of course paperless offices don't actually exist.  It's a nice idea, but we all know it's a fiction.  Back then, there was a letter, perhaps a page or two, with all of the information carefully set out.  And it was posted to you, and you put it on your file.  It didn't get lost in the overflowing filing tray along with the fourteen faxes and seventeen emails that had come in the meantime, containing the information that had been omitted or superceded.  The file was smaller, and your secretary knew where it was because she worked for you and she knew everything about everything.  She didn't have five bosses and hundreds of files for each one because of the vast amount of documentation produced by slapdash computer-happy paper pushers.  (I should add here that I was one of these, by necessity; if you have an office job, you don't have much of a choice, it's the way it is.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying life was better back then.  Just that we have got lost along the way.  Overwhelmed by our inventions and the things we have made it possible to do.  And I do apologise for ranting, but it has been building for days.  It had to come out.  I still can't reply to comments on my own blog, I have to do that from a different computer.  I am still in a "discussion" with an ISP which is making my blood boil.  But I do feel better for sharing.  Thank you! 

I did actually have a lovely calming afternoon today.  Soft spring sunshine, late spring flowers and boys having mini-adventures in the trees.

We went to Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which is always fantastic.  There are fewer birds in the summer, but at this time of year there are ducklings, goslings, cygnets and little coots and moorhens everywhere.  These are the young of the swans I photographed building their nest a few weeks ago.

They really were gorgeous.  The two on the right of the picture actually fell asleep for a while, and bobbed gently along together, snoozing away.

On the bank, the first of the yellow flag irises was just breaking from its bud.  Beautiful. 

An afternoon outside with three little boys is the very best medicine for all that ails.  Hope you had a great weekend too.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Some pink and purple flowers from round and about.  Some are wild, from down the road, the tulips and aquilegia are from the garden.

I just love these frilly tulips, they are so exotic, despite the fact that they have braved the cold, wet English spring to get to this point.

Summer seems a long way away, even though it's only a couple of weeks until June.  A brief respite from the rain today, and a beautiful green view from the top room.

Joining in with Lou and her Nature in the Home series.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Accidental bee keeping in my little green shed*

*With apologies to

*With apologies to Lou who of course has the Little Green Shed.

I put in an hour or so at the allotment this morning while it was dry; the weather man says rain tomorrow.  While I was pottering around the shed I noticed some bees flying in and out of the holes in the side.  The shed is a curious construction, with corrugated walls and partly lined in wood.  It has a number of holes drilled in the corrugated part, and the bees were going in through them to the space between the outer walls and lining.  (The shed also has a bizarre upside-down door which is split into two.  It's odd, but I love it.)

Well, I always wanted bees of my very own, and it seems that now I have some.  Hopefully they will stick around and pollinate anything that needs pollinating.  Not sure what type they are.  They were quite difficult to photograph, and bearing in mind that I was supposed to be tackling the vast quantities of weeds that have appeared and not standing around photographing bees I didn't spend too long on them.  But another day when I have more time I shall investigate further.  Anyway, I am thrilled, particularly as bees numbers are suffering and they are such amazing little creatures.  I'm a bee fan!

This is a "weed" I'm deliberately leaving on the plot.  I've heard they're good for wildlife, and they really are so pretty.  White dead nettle I believe.

But on the other hand this one...

... will have to go.  Very striking after a quick downpour, but nonetheless there isn't room for everything and we need vegetables more than buttercups.  Not today though, it has a short reprieve.

I picked a bit of this,

   and made a bit of this.  Pasta with broccoli, asparagus, pepper, onions, mushrooms and tofu sauteed in shoyu.  Some of us liked it, some of us picked out bits of it and some of us pinched the best bits off of some other people's plates.

Had a chilly weekend.  Sunday was our town's football tournament.  It's only a small town, but every year the football club organises a fantastic two-day football tournament for the junior teams.  It takes a huge amount of work, and the people who give up their time to make it work are wonderful.  The boys (and some girls) had a fantastic time, although it was cold, cold, cold on the touchline.  I took a cheese sandwich and a flask of cocoa to keep up the energy levels.   As well as a picnic blanket (not needed), an umbrella (needed), a book (not read - what was I thinking?), drinks and snacks for the littles, spare studs, waterproof coats, my camera and my everyday bag which has almost everything that could ever be needed.  Honestly, sometimes when I leave the house you would think I was going on holiday for a week, and not just popping out for a few hours.

Saw this at the weekend, at the end of the garden.  It's not our tree, but I can see it from the kitchen sink, where I spend quite a lot of time.  Right now it's looking beautiful.  After it rained on Saturday evening, the sun came out and this lovely rainbow appeared.  I just need to work out where the pot of gold is now.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Wool as therapy

The week started so well.  The sun was shining; I packed up a big picnic and we headed to Stratford Park in Stroud.  It's one of our favourite spots - loads of space for running and kicking balls as well as swings and things for the littlest boys, a lovely walk through the trees to a little lake and a wonderful  museum.  We stayed in the open grassy area this time, and I even managed to read a page or two of "The Mysterious Benedict Society".  I also read it out loud for a while, and now the two biggest boys are reading it too, so it has three bookmarks in it.  It was a wonderful afternoon, really relaxing.  The kind of day when you forget the stresses and strains of every day life.

And then came Tuesday.  I spent most of the day battling with technology.  The internet, new email addresses, new ISPs, changes here, changes there, notifying people of things.  And on and on.  Fast forward to today.  I'm partway there, but there are still some terrible glitches - I can't view any blogspot blogs (horror!) and I've struggled to get any photos onto this blog.  I have contemplated moving to one of those communities that live completely unplugged.  Honestly, sometimes I would just like a simple existence of homemaking, sewing, growing. 

In search of something a little slower but possibly just as infuriating I am planning a little crochet.  I remembered there was some wool...

With or without the pink and yellow, I can't decide.

I'd like to link to the blanket I'm planning, but until I can sort out the blogspot thing it's not possible.  I'm just hoping that it will be a calming, happy thing.  If not, I will just throw it through the hole in the window made by the laptop, as it's almost certain that will be heading that way very shortly.

Wish me luck with the hooking.  Until next time, xx

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Time ticks on, the seasons roll around, from winter to spring, whatever else is happening in life, good, bad or ugly.  May is a time of greenness and energy everywhere, a time for hope and bravery and the thought that probably everything will be alright in the end after all.  While I wrestle with the mundane, the worrying, the anxiety-forming, elsewhere, not far away, life has been created and nothing else matters.  Tiny, delicate, miraculous creatures are blindly chipping their way out into the world, with nothing but a layer of twigs between them and the ground.  Spiky shafts are drying and opening into fluff and feather.  Eyes are opening for the first time and seeing the constant green swaying of branches and the beaks of parents filled with caterpillars and grubs.  Squeaking voices are learning to call and sing.  Spring is a breathtaking miracle like no other.

Eggs found on our wanders round our home town and along its streamside walks.

Asparagus, the first of the season, from the allotment. 

Outside, after tea, every night.  Scooters, footballs, tennis rackets, bug collectors, cricket bats.  Boys, unleashed.

I'd like to say the beautiful sound of a Chopin piano concerto drifting on the evening breeze.  Actually, it's usually Jingle Bells or a very loud rendition of The Bare Necessities.  But hey, that's good enough for me.

Enjoy your May Bank Holiday.  See you on the other side.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Plum blossom and a promise of figs

I had a bit of a nasty shock at the allotment on Tuesday.  As well as the beautiful spring flowers and buds and shoots, the weeds had leapt up in my (ten-day) absence and taken the place over.    And as well as the weeds, the green manure from hell had  risen from the dead for the third time.  I really cannot imagine what possessed me to plant it back in the autumn.  The books all say, "Just dig it in in spring and let it die back".  Oh puh-lease - I have hacked at it over and over again, and still it is springing back up.  On Tuesday I resorted to squeezing all the earth off of the root systems and leaving them exposed in the sun.  What's the betting they will somehow survive this as well.  By the time I'd done all this, and pulled out the weeds that looked as though they were about to spread their seeds everywhere it was almost time to go.  I straightened up and looked longingly at the plot next-door-but-one to me.  This is what I think of as the Chelsea Garden Show plot, so immaculate it is.  I noticed their plum tree, covered in blossom, and then remembered - a couple of weeks ago I planted a tiny plum tree on my plot.  I looked over and, lo-and-behold, plum blossom.  That cheered me up no end, it really did.  A little bit had broken off, so I brought it home and put it in a vintage ink bottle with a Havran tulip from the garden that had been footballed.  Sometimes just a little blossom is enough to put everything right.

Having just struggled through a particularly grim Scandinavian crime thriller, I felt that something more fun was in order.  The boys couldn't understand why I would bother finishing it if it was rubbish, and I see their point.  Children's writers don't have long to get their readers on side, otherwise they are off to find something else.  I came across "The Mysterious Benedict Society" at the library and borrowed it for the eldest boy, who is 9.  But while it was sitting on the shelf waiting to be picked up I decided to try it myself.  I like to read what they are reading from time to time, just to see what the content and quality of writing is.  I really enjoyed "The Hunger Games" trilogy last year, but the content of the last book made me decide that it wasn't for a 9-year-old.   So I am a few chapters into "The Mysterious Benedict Society", and so far so good.  I am sure the eldest will love it - sometime he just needs to see me read something first to encourage him to pick it up.

Something else new around here is this thing of beauty - a Spong mincer.  I bought it on Ebay a few days ago, and I used it for the first time this week.  I often buy organic meat if I can, and this means that I can buy an identifiable cut and mince it myself for bolognaise and things.  I bought some beef and made burgers and everyone ate them (except me - vegetarian), which is something of a red letter day.  Chilli next I think.  I love the simplicity of the design; I remember them from when I was little, and the same Spongs are still going strong now.  And the name!  I haven't missed a single opportunity to say "Spong" really loudly since it arrived.

Finally a little loveliness from the garden as well as a tadpole which is lovely in its way but makes me feel ever so slightly like shrieking.

The very first of the apple blossom - it's a Ribston Pippin, which is one of the most delicious apples imaginable.  We don't get many because of the flying footballs and small boys who get tired and cross and pull off little apples when they don't get their own way, but when there is one it's sublime.  And apparently very high in Vitamin C, so good for you too.

And there's pear blossom too, masses of it, just like last year, although last year we didn't have a single pear so hopefully we won't get a repeat of that.

The promise of figs on this potted tree.  I am absolutely in love with fig trees and I've got three or four in pots.  It would be lovely if they started giving us the odd fig.

Bean sticks up, runner beans in, summer on the way. 

Aagh!  No idea what I'll do when there are miniature frogs hopping about the place.  I didn't really think this pond idea all the way through...